Sacra Liturgia Day 3: Hughlights 2

Yes, there is a typo in the title. But on reflection I have decided to leave it in. It reflects well what I am eager to affirm: that these summaries are distinctively mine, reflecting my priorities and level of fatigue, as well as the capabilities of my memory, intellect and attention span. Please do not equate these little highhughlights with any sort of truly comprehensive summary.

The third talk today was given by Bishop Alan Hopes, the Bishop of East Anglia, and member of ICEL. His talk was on the project to revise the English language version of the Divine Office: Sing a New Song to the Lord—Towards a Revised Translation of the Liturgy of the Hours. This had a particularly practical and topical focus, especially for the clergy present (though not all; some delegates are in communities that use Latin exclusively, and so avoid all contentions about translation). Rather than follow the talk from go to whoa, it seems better to highlight the important information it contained.

Bishop Alan Hopes with Dom Alcuin Reid

Bishop Hopes noted that while the English bishops had first petitioned for a revision of the Divine Office it was the American bishops who made it, in 2012, a pan-Anglo project with a good head of steam. One novelty in the proposed new Divine Office in English is that it is intended to produce the one text for all the 11 anglophone bishops’ conferences, rather than the various texts in use in different countries. Each conference could add a supplement or appendix which could encompass any necessary regional variations (such as in the calendar).

The new edition will employ the Revised Grail psalter (not entirely welcome to this writer). The collects for Sundays, solemnities, feasts and memorias will be taken from the Roman Missal of 2010. Readings will be from the approved lectionary, most likely according to the Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition). Most other texts will be supplied by ICEL, such as the hymns, Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons, psalter antiphons, inter alia. There is an ongoing consultation on the Intercessions at Lauds and Vespers, and the Te Deum. The non-biblical readings will be retained as-is from the current Divine Office.

The process will follow normal procedures, with the production of green and grey drafts. While the work in some areas is well advanced, Bishop Hopes felt that there were at least 4 more years of work left. As with the Missal of 2010, there would be a preparatory period of catechesis, in part to reflect the reality that many lay people have taken to praying the Divine Office.

Bishop Hopes dwelt on several particular topics. The hymns of the new Office will be retranslated in a way that is suitable to both recitation and singing, either metrically or in chant. This will involve the loss of rhyme in order to preserve the clarity of meaning. Various options for singing them will be provided, and no longer in the back of the book, but in the proper place in the Office book, much as the sung parts are in their proper place in the Missal of 2010. This will mean a lot less page turning for those who do actually sing the hymns. Singability is being given particular attention.

The Intercessions at Lauds and Vespers are being revisited. Their form will be changed and their litany quality restored. They will rely on or allude to biblical texts in the main, as well as patristic or conciliar texts.

For the Office of Readings there is active consideration being given to a second cycle of readings throughout the year. One issue to be resolved is how it will integrated into the published volumes; will it be a fifth volume? This is yet to be finalised.

Bishop Hopes then shamed the large number of delegates who confessed to using digital editions of the Office, such as Universalis. These, he said, are technically illegal! When the new Divine Office is published the dissemination of it will be through the bishops’ conferences, which will act as portals for electronic texts. The US bishops intend to make their own app, and most likely other conferences will do the same.

The next talk was by Dr Joris Geldhof, of the University of Leuven in Belgium. His paper was entitled Liturgy Beyond the Secular. It inspired some lively questioning afterwards. I confess that it was a very philosophical treatment, and such an approach does not play to my personal strengths. The summary that follows is inadequate and is best not called a summary. Perhaps ‘notes’ is more appropriate.

Dr Joris Geldhof

Dr Geldhof took as a principal aim the need to do away with binary oppositions, such as those between heaven and hell, Church and world, cult and culture, politics and religion. He sees these as simplistic and inadequate to reality. In other words, he finds them unhelpful.

So, in the context of liturgy, he finds the distinction, or binary opposition, between the sacred and the secular similarly unuseful. He declined to define liturgy so as not to limit it. His expansive and unfixed understanding of liturgy was challenging. He felt that no one individual lives 24/7 in a totally secular or totally sacred way. There is bound to be rupture, and thus the intrusion of the one into the other. The crisis of Catholicism in secular cultures requires a rethinking of the concept of the secular. Originally a time reference, denoting that which was temporal as opposed to eternal, it has come to take on a spatial dimension, rejecting any claim to transcendence of this world, and thus leading to a rejection of sacredness. Its innate tendency is to reductionism and exclusivism. However, Dr Geldhof maintained that liturgy is not a function of a sense of sacredness. It approaches the secular square-on, seeking to sanctify the world itself.

Another dichotomy he rejected was that between official liturgy and private devotion. The challenge today is indeed to reconnect these two.

The main danger of secularism is indifference, a refusal to face the unfamiliar. Opposed to this attitude is that of the truly religious person. To be religious is, he says, to live an exploratory life, even to facing the unfamiliar. This is an enrichment that the religious can offer the secular. It accepts that there is mystery and is prepared to face it.

To this end, liturgy can be seen as offering access to mystery in a secular world. Liturgy is wherever redemption is enacted, proclaimed and achieved. The liturgy is whatever time the Church does what it must do and whenever the people of God become what they must be, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Liturgy seems to be for Dr Geldhof a primarily existential attitude rather than a set of ritual actions and words. Thus the question is, How much liturgy is there in the world?

This leads him to distinguish between sacredness as a fixed state of being, and sanctification as an ongoing process. These are not opposed. So he cited Congar’s belief that there is only one sacred reality, Jesus Christ, but that He is not a static reality, and lives and breathes in the midst of the secular in his ecclesial Body, the Church. And there is no truly sacred place. Rather there is a sacred person, who again has his locus among the secular in his ecclesial Body. Christ is thus renewing time and space through his Church. He is not making new things, but rather making all things new. Thus the Church is not to be seen over and against the world, but in its midst to transform it. Faith can never be totally fused to any one culture, but transcends both culture and the world. Liturgy is the motor for this process. If liturgy is given for the life of the world, the secular, then it will have political consequences.

Liturgy thus moves us, and moves with us, from the temporal to the beyond, to the transcendent. Christians are not against the world but they transcend it. They are at home everywhere, but their homeland is nowhere on earth; it is beyond.

The fifth and last talk was from Dr Stephen Bullivant of St Mary’s University, Twickenham. His paper was deceptively titled “Especially in Mission Territories (SC 38)? New Evangelization and Liturgical (Reform of the) Reform. If you think he was talking primarily about liturgy in the mission lands as we understood them traditionally, you would be wrong!

Dr Stephen Bullivant

At the heart of the Dr Bullivant’s thesis was the recognition that the liturgical reforms after Vatican II were motivated and informed by neo-evangelistic principles, long before we coined “New Evangelization”. These same principles having justified reform then, likewise justify reform of that reform now. He laid out St John Paul II’s three situations: lands where faith was unknown or in its infancy (needing classic evangelization); places where the Church was well-established and vigorous (where the Church provided pastoral care); and in between these two, places that had ancient Christian roots but were now alienated from the faith (and so needed a new evangelization).

He noted that as early as the 1940s France was being described as a mission territory such was the decline in faith and its practice. The worker priest phenomenon was an attempt to address this situation. In postwar England the Catholic Mission Society moved from a focus on the mission lands to addressing the needs of the increasing numbers of the lapsed. It was no wonder then that St John XXIII in calling the Vatican Council sought to restore a sense of the supernatural in the lives of all people.

Dr Bullivant noted that the full and active participation of the people in the liturgy was the aim to be considered above all else in Sacrosanctum Concilium (14), the Council’s decree on the liturgy. Thus the Council’s permission for mission territories to use vernacular language and music is the logical outcome of this aim. But when parts of Western Europe are defining themselves as missionary territories, at least implicitly, then it was a small step for them to apply these missionary concessions to themselves, especially with regard to vernacular music and language.

So, if I may put it crudely, the more avant grade Europeans carpéd the diem and ran ahead with these principles not really intended for their use. Thus a Jazz Mass, or a Rock Mass, were seen as an attempt to employ a vernacular. So teenagers were allowed to do their own thing and use their vernacular music. Whether this furthered full and active participation is a moot point.

But unlike African cultures, does the west have truly vernacular music? Is vernacular music really age-based and thus temporary, passing and unstable?

What we see now as abuses were thus justified on neo-evangelistic principles. But were they neo-evangelistic successes? That today only 55.8% of cradle Catholics in Britain still identify as Catholics, and 37.8% claim no religion at all suggests that they have not been a success according to their intentions. This leads Dr Bullivant to recognise that the very neo-evangelistic principles that prompted the original reforms and associated initiatives likewise today mandate a similar process of reform for the reforms themselves. Since the aim remains the same, full and active participation of all the people, then a process of reform is as justified now as it was claimed to be back then.

In other words the liturgical reforms have been hoist on their own petard, having demonstrably failed to achieve their aim and indeed having coincided with an opposite movement, of decline in involvement not just in the liturgy but in the life of the Church altogether. Thus the Vatican Council, having been used to justify the reform as enacted, justifies today a reform of these same reforms in order to try to attain the goal the original reform has empirically failed to attain. He quoted Newman, that we look rather foolish standing here without the laity!

Bed calls. Excuse the typos. Pax.

8 thoughts on “Sacra Liturgia Day 3: Hughlights 2

  1. Thank you, Father, for working hard and late to pass on these accounts. I was thrilled to be able at least to attend the Mass on Wednesday and to receive the Blessed Sacrament from Cardinal Sarah’s hand


  2. I hope the revised hours prioritise the appropriate office hymns. Here are a number of excellent (Anglican patrimony) translations


  3. Thank you for the summary of Bishop Hope’s talk. I remember during a Canon law class at university, that the subject was raised of the clergy using ‘Universalis’ inter alia, to pray the Divine Office, and about their obligation in this regard. Without hesitation the professor reassured the clergy present that they could use it. The texts given there are the authorized ones – though one could argue that their reproduction by a another party could be ‘illegal’. It is the approved official text one has the obligation to pray.


    1. Salve!

      Indeed it is the app not the texts that are unapproved. It is all about copyright, a most lamentable intrusion into the dissemination of the Church’s liturgical texts. There should be no impediment to allowing as many as possible to pray the prayer of the Church (apart from a one-off payment for a well-packaged copy of the texts, which is what both the app and the book are). Even then they are freely available on the Universalis website. Even better, one licence payment gets you the app on all your devices and your desktop. It is an excellent service to the Church, I know you agree.



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